shanghai postcard #25: A holiday-shaped hole

Early faux Thanksgiving, cooked by my Dad by special request, October 2010

Early faux Thanksgiving, cooked by my Dad by special request, October 2010

There is a funny thing about the way in which American holidays fail to materialize when you live abroad.

It's not that you can't get the props. I passed a frozen turkey at the Japanese International grocery store less than an hour ago. 

It's not that there aren't other Americans to celebrate with.

The thing that's missing is family and old friends, and you're surrounded by 22 million people who aren't feeling what you're feeling.

For me, Thanksgiving in particular is tough, because it's holiday I associate so closely with family. 

Thanksgiving is my Dad in the kitchen starting at 7 a.m., a mammoth meal around 3 p.m., followed by a movie, usually Blade Runner. This is the script. It's what we do. In the absence of what makes Thanksgiving Thanksgiving, Shanghai suddenly feels less than homey.

On the plus side, this is the first apartment in five years where we've actually had an oven, and I'm roasting a chicken. It's not quite a turkey, but I don't feel like a turkey for buying it - "fire chicken" as the Chinese call it, is mighty pricey over here.

Also, it's my Thursday night, so I will wake up in the morning to find my various social media feeds lit up with your adventures and celebrations.

In addition, since nobody gets Thursday off, the Americans turn it into a holiday weekend and parties abound. This year I'm hoping to get recipes from my hosts and hostesses to start some new Shanghai traditions.

Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday!


on the needles: a day late and an f.o. short

My plan was to have a gorgeous completed shawl to show you on Friday. 

Said gorgeous completed shawl was to feature the super awesome teal-to-gold gradient (pictured above) suggested by the lovely Jen of the Down Cellar Studio podcast.

Said gorgeous completed shawl does not exist. As of right now, it's barely a nubbin of a shawl.

The shawl was well on its way to glorious completion when I came to the realization that something just wasn't working.

As a knitter, I really try to  pay attention to the "something's not right here" feeling for two reasons - (1) it's about usually accurate and (2) plodding along in spite of it usually results in more work to rip out later when the worst is confirmed. 

I put the shawl down for a few days to see if I would like it more later, but no. Completely frogged back to zero (actually, that's not true. I ripped out the needles, shoved the knitting back into the project bag, and started with fresh yarn. I just can't quite face the actual ripping out, and I'm hoping the Yarn Fairy will magically do it for me).

8- Jen Sideways.JPG

In better news, Jen has a really cool post on her blog on Fall Shawl Style, part of the Shawl Together project.

It's a great post with lots of styling hints for wearing your hand-knitted shawls with a range of different outfits.

Also, be sure to checking out Jen's shawl designs, including Tan House Brook and Aila Grace


I'm keeping my fingers crossed to have a finished shawl to show you this Friday.

What's on your needles this week?



lovely things: holding yarn double

This is my happy project face from back in February. I had just finished my first Custom Fit Sweater in my own Helix yarn, held double, and I was so happy! Now that cooler temperatures are back, I am wearing this vest again all the time, and loving it just as much.

Much of why I love this vest has to do with the doubled yarn: The color is perfectly even, it's cozy without being bulky, and it was a very fast knit.

If you're wondering why a sane knitter would choose to double the amount of yardage they're using on a project, there are a number of good reasons. Holding the yarns this way changes the resulting knitted fabric (for the better, in my opinion), blends colors, and speeds up your project. It's also a great way to test-drive a fine yarn with reduced commitment.

So let's say you have two swatches, both on size 7 needles. One swatch is in a round 4-ply worsted yarn, and the other is two strands of sport-weight held double. The sport-weight held double is going to have a springier feel to it and more structure and body.

Socks with yarn held double to reduce pooling

Socks with yarn held double to reduce pooling

This structured hand-feel is the result of the shape of the yarn.  A cross-section of yarns held double is quite flat compared with a round yarn (like a 4-ply worsted). This flatness in the yarn gives a flatness in the fabric. It also makes the yarn fill in visually, which is why it's a great technique for softies and other stuffed toys where you don't want to stuffing to be visible through the knitted skin.

If you love using semi-solid yarns but hate pooling, or having to use two balls at once, holding yarn double may be for you. It helps spread out high and low contrast areas of the yarn, since highlights and lowlights tend to cancel each other out across the two strands. You end up with a more uniform overall look than when working with just one strand or from one ball.

If there's a fine yarn you've been thinking about selecting for a major project (like a sweater than will take you months and months), you may want to try a smaller project (like a vest!) with the yarn held double to see if you really like it and see how it wears.

Or, perhaps, you just want your hand-knit sweater without an enormous wait. MelSKi's gorgeous Ikaika sweater is designed with our Helix yarn held double, and it knits up fast - in addition to having amazing hand-feel. 

Try a yarn-held-double swatch, and let me know what you think!

Garter Tab Tutorial from Alex Tinsley!

This post is part of the Fall Shawl Together, a collaborative project featuring great shawl-related content from designers, bloggers, and podcasters. We're featuring a new post each week, now - December. You can check out all the posts on the Fall Shawl Together Project Page and show us what you're working on by tagging your shawl projects!  #shawltogether

Many great shawl patterns start with garter tabs. Unfortunately, this useful technique can be really difficult to interpret from written instructions.

Join Alex as she de-mystifies the garter tab in this fun and informative tutorial, taking you through each step with clear and easy-to-follow instructions.

If you're not already familiar with Alex's work, you should definitely check out her blog, Dull Roar, her amazing array of designs, and her epic hat collection - her hats even have their own dresser!

Guest Post from Jill Wolcott: When and How to Substitute a Yarn

This post is part of the Fall Shawl Together , a collaborative project featuring great shawl-related content from designers, bloggers, and podcasters. We're featuring a new post each week, now - December. You can check out all the posts on the Fall Shawl Together Project Page and show us what you're working on by tagging your shawl projects!  #shawltogether

Remarkables by Jill Wolcott Knits

By Jill Wolcott of Jill Wolcott Knits

Yarn Substitution

We all do it. We see a pattern and then choose the yarn, or we choose the yarn, then find a pattern that will work. We have also likely had some less than glorious outcomes. So how do you make a knowledgeable and appropriate yarn substitution?

I think most knitters substitute based on what is readily available to them. They may be looking for a yarn substitution from their stash, or from their favorite yarn purveyor, or they may be looking for a less expensive option.

Suitable Yarn Substitutions

I provide extensive gauge information in my patterns because I feel it is really important that the knitter get the same fabric I used in my original design. But that only works insofar as the yarn is the same as or nearly identical to the yarn I used. I don't begrudge anyone making a yarn substitution because every knitter needs to make the project they want to make, but without directly comparing to the original yarn, results will vary.

I focused on Remarkables for this post. It is a luscious piece, but the yarn used is quite unique and relatively expensive, so I was interested in what would happen with other yarns. The photo below is of my unblocked swatches. The top center is Air from Zealana, the original yarn. I knit all of these on the same needle. Hat Box got the bottom trim added which I didn't do in the others. Helix isn't pictured here because I had already blocked it. 

Yarn Base

If you can get gauge it will work, right? Obviously, you need to keep to the same general yarn weight, and choosing one sock yarn over another might not make a lot of difference, but there are different yarn structures (twist, ply) as well as fiber content differences. I look at yarn from a user's standpoint, without a lot of regard to subtleties of structure. All of the swatches are in sock-weight yarns. Satchel is a single ply and the rest of my yarns choices are plied. I usually compare weight and yardage too.

Air is a lace yarn, but in this application it is worked at a sock-weight gauge to take full advantage of its halo. Oy. See why substitutions can be tricky? If you don't know the original yarn it might mean that a bit of crucial information is missing from your equation.

Fiber Content

Air is unique in large part because of its 40% brushtail possum fiber, which is blended with 40% cashmere and 20% mulberry silk. I'm sure Woolyarns could tell us much about its structure, but the possum fiber is the piece that I find makes it most unique from a user standpoint.

Working from the upper left and going clockwise, here is ball-band information. I created 100g equivalents for those yarns that came in different weights.

  • Sprinkles from Delicious Yarns: 100% superwash merino wool, 100g/450 yds (411m)
  • Air from Zealana:  40% brushtail possum, 40% cashmere, 20% mulberry silk, 25g/191 yds (175m) [100g/764 (688m)]
  • Hatbox from Mrs. Crosby:  75% superwash merino wool, 15% Silk, 10% cashmere, 100g/317 yds (290m)
  • Mimi from Lotus/Trendsetter: 100% mink, 50g/328 yds (300m) [100g/656 (590m)]
  • Satchel from Mrs. Crosby:  100% superwash merino wool, 100g/370 yds (338m)
  • Not pictured: Helix from Infinite Twist, 100% wool, 67g/200 yds (183m) [100g/300 yds (270m)]

These all got approximately the same gauge, but there is quite a bit of variation in the yardage/weight, so this isn't a clear path to a great substitution.


You will need the equivalent of three balls of Air to make this piece. Air retails for $25/ball so the yarn for the Shawlette costs $75. Since we can't really do a direct substitution, I'm going to estimate that we need between 600 and 750 yards.

  • Sprinkles from Delicious Yarns: $24/100g. Cost $48
  • Air from Zealana:  $25/25g. Cost $75
  • Hatbox from Mrs. Crosby:  $27/100g. Cost $54 to $81
  • Mimi from Lotus/Trendsetter: $23/50g. Cost $46
  • Satchel from Mrs. Crosby:  $17/100g. Cost $34
  • Helix from Infinite Twist, $17/67g. Cost $51 to $68

There is a lot of cost variation in this list. The project yarn cost (based on my assumptions) goes from a low of $34 to a high of $81. So why not just buy the least expensive yarn and go for it?

Physical Properties

I knit all these swatches in yarns I assumed would work in this design. I knit the gauge swatch/beginning of the Scarf from the pattern. I varied the cables a bit, and clearly, I got tired of knitting on some of them. I've washed the swatches, where noted threw them in the dryer, and blocked the lace sections with my steam iron.

Color ended up playing a key role. Complex stitch design means the yarn color can really compete with the design; this might not be the place to use your beautiful hand-dye.

"This cunning confection of a shawlette rises in delicate tiers . . " is the part that was the most difficult to replicate.

  • Sprinkles from Delicious Yarns (dryer): Swatch weighs 14g. This one looks much weightier, and I find the color really distracting.  I can't wait to use this yarn somewhere else.
  • Air from Zealana (dryer): Swatch weighs 6g. This yarn doesn't have a lot of memory and flattens out, but the dryer helps bring out the halo and drape.  Still love this yarn/design combination. There is a scarf that takes one ball.
  • Hatbox from Mrs. Crosby (dryer): Swatch weighs 12g without Bottom Trim. I like the stitch definition in this one, but it lacks the weightless look of Air, so it becomes less a confection, but I like it. Also try it for Tuscany, Medallion, and Kintail.
  • Mimi from Lotus/Trendsetter: Swatch weighs 9g. This is most similar to Air, but it is definitely heavier, so doesn't feel like a confection. I'd try it for Belon.
  • Satchel from Mrs. Crosby: Swatch weighs 14g. I loved this swatch before I blocked it. Can't wait to use this yarn in something else.
  • Helix from Infinite Twist: Swatch weighs 15g without Bottom Trim. This yarn has a wonderful springy twist to it, which makes it all wrong for Remarkables. Grab Ashland for this one (and a capelette version is being added to the pattern next week!)

There is a shawl for every yarn, and a yarn for every shawl, so take time to make sure you've got a great match. You know. Swatch first.

Be sure to check out Jill's gorgeous designs and online classes on her site


New lovely things: Ikaika, Carousel II, and posts you will love!

Ikaika by MSkiKnits

It has been a very exciting day here in Infinite Twist Land:  There's a new sweater kit in the shop, my new shawl design Carousel II is available, and there are two posts on WithMel you should really check out!

First, the sweater: Designed by MSkiKnits, Ikaika (which means strong in Hawaiian) is named after an especially beloved horse. Mel has written up a gorgeous blog post about the design inspiration behind this sweater - find it on her blog here.

This sweater uses Infinite Twist's Helix held double. I love using Helix this way, since it creates a knitted fabric with just the right amount of drape and substance. Kits are in the shop.  I hope this care-free and spirited knit gallops its way onto your needles!

Second, the shawl: You know that feeling when you have a project that you can't quite get out of your head? That's where I was with my Carousel Scarf/Shawl pattern.

The original version (free on Ravelry here) is an Aran/Heavy Worsted weight, and it a great showcase for a hand-spun yarn.

But... truth be told, the version of it I wear most is lighter; a DK-weight that is the perfect amount of cozy without being bulky. 

Carousel II by Cate Carter-Evans

So back to the drawing board I went, this time with a bunch of mini-skeins and a plan to update this wardrobe staple with a pop of color. And thus, we have Carousel II!

Kits for the shawl are in the shop in two colors. If there's a special gradient you'd like, let me know - I'd be happy to dye up a custom kit for you.

Third, the posts: Make sure to check out Mel's post on how to wear shawls. So many of us knitters make shawls. But then what? With her trademark warmth and wit, Mel's post  includes great tips for layering and styling. 

Want more great shawl-related content? Check out the Shawl Together Project.  

Wishing you a fun and exciting Tuesday, and happy knitting!